In our previous session we came to the following conclusion: According to the New Testament, salvation is received through faith alone – faith in Jesus’s finished work of atonement – without human works of any kind. But thereafter this faith always issues in appropriate works – actions which correspond with the faith that has been professed. A faith that does not produce these appropriate works is a mere empty profession – a dead faith – incapable of bringing a real experience of salvation.
This conclusion naturally leads us to a further question. What works should we look for in the life of every person who professes faith in Jesus for salvation? More specifically, what is the relationship between faith in Jesus and the requirements of the law of Moses?
The answer of the New Testament is clear and consistent: Once a person has trusted Jesus for salvation, his righteousness no longer depends on observing the law of Moses, either wholly or in part.
This is a subject on which there is a great deal of confused thinking and speaking among professing Christian’s. In order to clear up the confusion, we must first recognize certain basic facts about the law.
The Law of Moses: One Single, Complete System
The first great fact is that the law was given complete, once for all, through Moses.
For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ(John 1:17).
Notice that phrase “the law was given through Moses.” Not “some laws,” or “part of the law,” but the law – the whole law, complete and entire in one system – was given at one period in history and through the human instrumentality of one man only, and that man was Moses. Everywhere in Scripture, unless some special qualifying phrase is added to modify or change the meaning, the phrase “the law” denotes the complete system of law given by God through Moses. Confirmation of this is found in Romans.
For until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who had not sinned according to the likeness of the transgression of Adam (5:13-14).
Notice the two phrases indicating a definite period of time: “until the law,” and “from Adam to Moses.” When God created Adam and placed him in the garden, He gave him not a complete system of law but a single negative commandment.
You shall not eat . . . the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden (Gen. 3:1-3).
When Adam transgressed this commandment, sin entered into the human race and came upon Adam and all his descendants from that time onward. The evidence that sin came upon all men from the time of Adam onward is the fact that all men became liable to death, which is the outcome of sin.
However, from the time that Adam transgressed against that first, single God-given commandment until the time of Moses, there was no God-given, God-enforced system of law revealed and applied to the human race. This explains how the two phrases “until the law” and “from Adam to Moses” denote the same period of human history – the period from Adam’s transgression of the single commandment in the garden down to the time when the complete system of divine law was given by God through Moses.
During this period the human race was without any system of God-given, God-enforced law. This is in full accord with the statement already quoted from John 1:17.
The law was given through Moses.
This law, so given, was a single, complete system of commandments, statutes, ordinances and judgements. All these are contained, in their entirety, within the compass of four books of the Bible – Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Before the time of Moses there was no divine system of law given to the human race. Furthermore, after the close of this period, nothing further was ever added to this system of law. That the law was thus given once for all, complete, is made plain by the words of Moses.
Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgements which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you. You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take anything from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you (Deut. 4:1-2).
These words show that the system of law given by God to Israel through Moses was complete and final. Thereafter nothing more was ever to be added to it and nothing was ever to be taken away from it.
This leads us naturally to the next great fact which must be clearly established in relation to the keeping of the law: Every person who comes under the law is thereby obliged to observe the whole system of law in its entirety at all times. There is no question of observing certain parts of the law and omitting certain other parts. Nor is there any question of keeping the law at certain times and failing to keep it at other times. Any person who comes under the law is necessarily obliged to keep the whole law at all times.
For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law (James 2:10-11).
This is both clear and logical. A person cannot say, “I consider certain points of the law to be important, so I will observe these; but I consider certain other points of the law to be unimportant, so I will not observe those.” Any person under the law must observe all of its requirements at all times. If he breaks only one point, he has broken the whole law.
The law is a single, complete system which cannot be divided up into some points which are applied and others which are not applied. As a means of righteousness, the whole law must be accepted and applied, complete and entire, as a single system, or else it is of no benefit or validity whatever.
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Gal. 3:10).
Notice that phrase “continue in all things.” This indicates that a person who is under the law must observe the whole law at all times. A person who at any time breaks any point of the law has transgressed the whole law, and has thus come under the divine curse pronounced upon all transgressors of the law.
Following on from this, we come to the third important point which must be recognized in connection with the law, and this is a matter of actual historical fact: The system of law given by Moses was ordained by God solely for one small section of the human race, and that was the people of Israel after their deliverance from the bondage of Egypt.
Nowhere in the Bible is there any suggestion that God ever intended that the Gentiles, either nationally or individually, should observe the law of Moses, either wholly or in part. The only exception to this is found in the case of a few individual Gentiles who voluntarily decided to associate themselves with Israel and thereby to place themselves under all the legal and religious obligations which God had imposed upon Israel. Such Gentile converts to Judaism are in the New Testament called “proselytes.”
Apart from these, the obligations of the law have never been imposed by God upon any Gentile.
Thus we may briefly sum up the three important facts necessary to recognize before we study the relationship of the Christian’s believer to the law.
- The law was given once for all, as a single, complete system, through Moses; thereafter, nothing could ever be added to it or taken from it.
- The law must always be observed in its entirety as a single, complete system; to break any one point of the law is to break the whole law.
- As a matter of human history, this system of law was never ordained by God for Gentiles, but only for Israel.
Professing Christian’s Are Not Under the Law
Having established these three facts as a basis, let us examine in detail what the New Testament teaches about the relation between the Christian’s believer and the law. This question is referred to in many different passages of the New Testament, and in every passage the same clear, definite truth is taught. The righteousness of the Christian’s believer does not depend upon observing any part of the law.
Let us look at a number of passages in the New Testament which make this plain.
First of all, Romans 6:14 is addressed to Christian believers:
For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
This verse reveals two important truths. First, Christian’s believers are not under law but under grace. These are two alternatives which mutually exclude each other: A person who is under grace is not under the law. No person can be under both the law and grace at the same time.
Second, the very reason why sin shall not have dominion over Christian’s believers is because they are not under the law. So long as a person is under the law he is also under the dominion of sin. To escape from the dominion of sin a person must come out from under the law.
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15:56).
The law actually strengthens the dominion of sin over those who are under the law. The harder they strive to keep the law, the more conscious they become of the power of sin within themselves, exercising dominion over them, even against their own will, and frustrating every attempt to live by the law. The only escape from this dominion of sin is to come out from under the law and to come under grace.
For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sin which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter (Rom. 7:5-6).
Here Paul says that those who are under the law are subject to the passions of sin in their fleshly nature, which cause them to bring forth fruit to death; but that, as Christian’s believers, “we have been delivered from the law . . .” that we should serve God, not according to the letter of the law, but in the newness of spiritual life which we receive through faith in Jesus.
Again, in Romans 10:4 Paul says:
For Jesus is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
As soon as a person puts his faith in Jesus for salvation, that is the end of the law for that person as a means of achieving righteousness. Here Paul is very precise in what he says. He does not say that there is an end of the law as a part of God’s Word. On the contrary, God’s Word “endures forever.” There is an end of the law for the believer as a means of achieving righteousness.
The believer’s righteousness is no longer derived from the keeping of the law, either wholly or in part, but solely from faith in Jesus.
Paul states that the law as a means of righteousness came to an end with the atoning death of Jesus upon the cross.
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col. 2:13-14).
Here Paul says that through the death of Jesus, God “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us” and took “it out of the way . . .” Paul does not speak about the wiping out of sins but about the wiping out of requirements. This word could better be translated “ordinances.”
These ordinances are the ordinances of the law which stood between God and those who had transgressed them, and therefore they had to be taken out of the way before God could bestow mercy and forgiveness upon them. The word ordinances here denotes the whole system of law which God had ordained through Moses, including that particular section of the law which we usually call the Ten Commandments.
That this “wiping out” includes the Ten Commandments is confirmed by Paul later in the same chapter.
Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths (Col. 2:16).
The word therefore at the opening of this verse indicates a direct connection with what had been stated two verses earlier; that is, the wiping out of the ordinances of the law through the death of Jesus.
Again, the mention of “the sabbaths” at the end of the verse indicates that the religious observance of the Sabbath day was included among those ordinances which had been wiped out. Yet the commandment to observe the Sabbath day is the fourth of the Ten Commandments. This indicates that the Ten Commandments are included among the totality of the ordinances of the law that have been wiped out and taken out of the way through the death of Jesus.
This confirms what we have established: the law, including the Ten Commandments, is a single, complete system. As a means of achieving righteousness, it was introduced as a single, complete system by Moses; and, as a single, complete system, it was done away with by Jesus.
For He Himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace (Eph. 2:14-15).
Paul here tells us that Jesus, through His atoning death on the cross, has abolished (that is, made of no effect) “the law of commandments”; He has thereby taken away the great dividing line of the law of Moses which separated Jews from Gentiles, making it possible for Jews and Gentiles alike, through faith in Jesus, to be reconciled both with God and with each other.
The phrase “the law of commandments” indicates as plainly as possible that the entire law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments, was made of no further effect as a means of righteousness by the death of Jesus upon the cross.
In 1 Timothy 1:8-10 Paul again discusses the relationship of the Christian’s believer to the law and reaches the same conclusion.
But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.
Here Paul defines two classes of persons: On the one hand, there is a righteous man; on the other hand, there are those guilty of the various sins enumerated in Paul’s list. A person guilty of these sins is not a true, believing Christian’s; such a person has not been saved from sin by faith in Jesus.
A person who trusts Jesus for salvation is no longer guilty of such sins; he has been justified, he has been made righteous – not with his own righteousness, but with the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Jesus to all and on all who believe.
Paul affirms that the law is not made for a righteous man such as this; he is no longer under the dominion of the law.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Rom. 8:14).
God’s true, believing sons are those who are led by God’s Spirit – that is what marks them out as sons of God. Concerning such people, Paul says:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law (Gal. 5:18).
Thus, the very thing which marks out the true, believing sons of God – being led by God’s Spirit – also means that such people are not under the law.
We may put it briefly thus: If you are a true child of God by faith in Jesus, the evidence is that you are led by the Spirit of God. But if you are led by the Spirit of God, then you are not under the law. Therefore, you cannot be a child of God and under the law at the same time.
God’s children are not under the law. We may illustrate this contrast between the law and the Spirit by the example of trying to find the way to a certain place by two different means: one means is to use a map; the other means is to follow a personal guide. The law corresponds to the map; the Holy Spirit corresponds to the guide.
Under the law a person is given a completely accurate and detailed map, and he is told that if he follows every detail of the map faultlessly, it will direct him on the way from earth to heaven. However, no human being has ever succeeded in following the map faultlessly. That is, no human being has ever made the journey from earth to heaven by the faultless observance of the law.
Under grace a person commits himself to Jesus as Saviour, and thereafter Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to that person to be his personal guide. The Holy Spirit, having come from heaven, already knows the way there and has no need of the map. The believer in Jesus who is led by the Holy Spirit needs only to follow this personal guide to reach heaven. He need not depend on the map, which is the law. Such a believer may be absolutely confident of one thing: The Holy Spirit will never lead him to do anything contrary to His own holy nature.
Therefore, the New Testament teaches that those who are under grace are led by God’s Spirit and do not depend upon the law.
We conclude, therefore, that God has never actually expected men to achieve true righteousness by the observance of the law, either wholly or in part.
This conclusion raises a very interesting question: If God never expected men to achieve righteousness by the observance of the law, why was the law ever given to men?
We shall deal with this question in the next session.